BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Fry, Fry Again

The title of “fried rice” is really a misnomer in most cases. Across a wide sampling of restaurant offerings from high- to low-end, this perennial takeout staple rarely, if ever, approaches a state close to being fried. Not deep fried, not pan fried, and in the worse cases, barely even sauteed. Merely warmed in a hot wok at best, it’s little more than a pile of stale, soy sauce-soaked leftovers tossed with a few limp vegetables if you’re lucky. While it’s true that even the worst fried rice is still reasonably satisfying, fulfilling the starchy component of a typically greasy meal in need of a carbohydrate foil, rarely does it stand out as extraordinary. Such a shame that this staple isn’t given just an extra ounce of respect to elevate it beyond the realm of mediocrity.

The trouble is, there’s a real art to crafting actual fried rice, complete with chewy clusters and crispy edges, and a certain brand of bravery required to crank up the heat to high. It’s not actually difficult, but demands a bit more finesse than simply tossing a bunch of grains into a skillet.

  • First of all, needless to say, rice matters. The number of varieties out there are as numerous and unique as snowflakes, but the best options for fried rice are sticky. Be it short or medium grain, sticky rice provides just the right amount of starch to sear nicely and create small, savory clumps.
  • It needn’t be day-old or leftover rice, but it’s certainly easier to work with if it’s not still hot. Freshly cooked rice is a perfectly fine candidate for frying, but let it cool a bit before throwing it back into the fire.
  • Give your ingredients room to breathe! Use a big enough wok or skillet to allow a good amount of direct contact across the grains; a 9-inch cooking surface can accommodate 2 cups of rice at most. When in doubt, break out the big guns.
  • Do not fear oil and use a good amount of it, even if you’re using a so-called “non-stick” pan. There needs to be a thin layer of it across the bottom, shimmering slightly, to make that golden-brown and crispy exterior happen.
  • Speaking of shimmering, your oil needs to be blisteringly hot before any grain ever touches it. Crank up the heat to high and get the pan so hot that it scares you. Start cooking and stop merely reheating that rice!

  • Once it’s in the pan, leave it alone. Don’t fuss with it, but give it some space to work its magic. Excessive stirring will prevent the starch from properly caramelizing or getting crispy. You can turn the heat down slightly if it’s starting to smoke, sure, but don’t move it for at least 15 minutes before flipping the rice over to cook the opposite side.
  • Add more oil if necessary. Do not fear having rice stick to the pan. Those will be the crunchiest, most delicious parts in the end.

It’s the kind of anything goes dish where no recipe is needed, and pretty much every vegetable addition tastes good. As long as there’s a healthy splash of soy sauce, perhaps a bit of sauteed garlic and ginger, you really can’t go wrong. The real beauty of fried rice is its versatility, no matter how you dress it up or down.


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Ranch, Reinvented

“Obsession” is a good way to describe the level of devotion for many otherwise easy-going eaters across the US. Inspiring a following that borders on fanatic, it makes an appearance on over 25% of menus across the nation. That’s all restaurant menus, in all states, so while it may not sound especially impressive at first, consider the diverse number of cuisines found coast to coast, including the the chefs who wouldn’t touch the stuff with a 10-foot stalk of celery. I’m talking about ranch dressing; the tangy, herbaceous condiment that has become inextricably linked with edible Americana. Even back in the days of my vegetable-hating youth, I too succumbed to the creamy comfort of pale, iceberg salads smothered in enough ranch dressing to sink a ship. Stealthily consumed under the pretense of eating a healthy serving of vegetables, I could empty out those family-sized bottles at an alarming rate.

Ranch has been re-imagined and revitalized in striking new ways since then, appealing to many previous detractors with brighter, bolder flavors and countless bases that cater to more wholesome diets. The concept itself has become so prevalent in popular culture, in fact, that it’s transcended that original format to become a wholly unique flavor. No longer a mere condiment, anything can be ranch-flavored.

That’s where Biena Chickpea Snacks come in with the introduction of their new Rockin’ Ranch Chickpeas. Crunchy garbanzo beans are the new bacon, as far as I’m concerned, proliferating in the snack aisle and home kitchens alike in a rainbow of flavors. The key to their success is their versatility, not only as stand-alone snacks, but also components in other dishes. The most obvious approach to incorporating these nuggets of crunchy goodness into your daily diet is to simply throw a handful into any green salad, replacing those tired old croutons with invigorating new zest. Especially true of these particular gems, the ranch flavor is ideal for perking up even the barest bowl of leafy greens. Bold and tangy notes of vinegar provide the first wake-up call; assertive but not aggressive. Savory garlicky undertones come through with each and every crunch, appealing to a wide range of palates. Despite being generously coated with spices and seasonings, this flavorful dusting won’t cake on your fingers or turn them fluorescent colors should you choose to simply munch out of hand. Overall, the flavor is remarkably ranch-y, yet sure to appeal even if ranch isn’t exactly your dressing of choice.

It would have been easy to plow through a full bag (or two) as fuel for marathon study sessions, but I wanted to make more out of these crispy chickpea gems. My mind quickly went to the classic pairing of buffalo wings and ranch dressing, but with a heartier and more wholesome slant.

Simple and easy enough to suit the most hectic weekday dinner rush, this hearty stew combines all the best parts of a spicy buffalo wing marinade with a few basic pantry staples, elevating the concept well beyond standard bar fare. Thick and rich, each spoonful sparkles with just all the right spice to ring true. Who needs fried fast food when little more than a few humble beans can trump the whole flavor sensation? A cooling ranch creme serves to balance out the heat, and of course, a generous handful of those addictive crunchy ranch chickpeas adds the much-needed textural contrast to complete the picture.

Even as the days grow longer and warmer, this is one satisfying one-pot dish that will stay on my menu as a perennial favorite.

Buffalo-Ranch Chickpea Stew

Buffalo Chickpea Stew:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Stalks Celery, Diced
3 Tablespoons Chickpea Flour
1 Cup Low-Sodium Vegetable Broth
1/2 Cup Tomato Puree
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup Cooked) Chickpeas, Drained
2 Tablespoons Hot Sauce, such as Frank’s Red Hot
Salt, to Taste

Ranch Crème:

1/2 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

To Serve:

Ranch-Flavored Crunchy Chickpeas, Store-Bought or Homemade
1 – 2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced

Set a medium pot over moderate heat and add in the oil. Saute the onion, garlic, and celery together until softened, aromatic, and just beginning to caramelize around the edges. Sprinkle in the chickpea flour and stir well, coating the vegetables. Cook lightly, for just a minute or two, to gently toast and cook the raw flavor out of the flour. Slowly incorporate the vegetable broth, stirring constantly to ensure that it properly hydrates the flour without clumping. Once simmering, introduce the tomato puree, chickpeas, and hot sauce next, stirring well. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let simmer until the liquid has significantly thickened; about 10 – 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the ranch crème by simply mixing together all of the ingredients in a separate bowl. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Once the stew is thick and bubbling away happily, add salt to taste and ladle it out into individual serving bowls. Top with dollops of ranch crème, crunchy chickpeas, and sliced scallions. Enjoy!

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Kept On Ice

UPDATE: Okay folks, I’ve let this go on for long enough… APRIL FOOLS! I’m sad to say, it was all a bit of fun in this name of today’s “holiday.” Although I thought everyone would figure it out immediately, I didn’t expect such an outpouring of enthusiasm and support. Instead of getting a laugh out of it, I ended up feeling more dejected that I wouldn’t be able to deliver on this artificial promise.

Rest assured, I do genuinely want to create this book, but I haven’t yet found a publisher willing to take it on. Right now, it’s just a pipe dream, but this whole affair gives me hope that it may still happen some day. Thank you, everyone, for providing such persuasive inspiration!

It’s no secret that I play favorites when it comes to dessert, and regardless of the season, my preference invariably points to chilliest option on the menu. Creamy and cool, a generous scoop of ice cream always hits the spot. Wrapping up production on Vegan a la Mode was one of the most difficult publishing decisions I made back in the day, still bursting with frosty inspiration but running up against the threat of harsh deadlines, a lot was ultimately left unsaid. Even worse, a lot was left unchurned.

For years now, since the moment that original tome hit the market, I’ve been pining for an excuse to revisit that file of unrealized potential. Well, the idea of making a sequel is no longer just an empty threat; it’s about to become a sweet reality.

Vegan a la Mode: The Second Scoop will pick up right where the first cookbook left off, with never-before-tasted flavors like Tamarind-Chile Ice Cream, Nesselrode Pie Ice Cream, and Butterbeer Ice Cream. Unique frozen confections will feature prominently this time around, bringing fun new serving suggestions like Neapolitan Spaghetti Ice Cream and Lava Flow Bombes to the table when you’re craving a real show-stopping grand finale.

Pushing ahead at break-neck speed to meet the imminent summer 2016 release, I simply couldn’t wait any longer to share the delicious news. Stand by for pre-orders and the final cover art, coming soon!


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Love Triangle

Don your silliest costumes and rattle your noise-makers; Purim is around the corner! As one of the most joyous events on the Jewish calendar, games of chance, dancing, and parades are just the beginning of the fun festivities. Marked by vibrant color and a celebratory cacophony, it should only follow suit that the iconic food of the day, the hamantaschen, should follow suit. While the multi-colored fruit fillings contribute that particular visual impression, the uproar can often be attributed to the baker’s wailing over the fickle, uncooperative dough. Even the most experienced kitchen wizards sometimes get tripped up on this buttery pastry shell.

While everyone has their favorite flavors, from classic poppy seed to nouveau yuzu marmalade, the very same base is essential for hamantaschen mastery. Rather than leave you simply with a tried-and-true formula, I thought I might share a few tips to improve the end results, no matter what recipe makes the cut.

  • Start with shortening. It’s not the most flavorful fat on the shelf, but you can make up for that with citrus zest, spices, or concentrated baking extracts if that really bothers you. Nothing else works quite as well for this very rich dough. Vegetable shortening has less water than vegan butter and a higher melting point, which means your cookies are less liable to spread or, worst case scenario, liquefy in the oven.
  • Chill out. Keep all of your components as cold as possible, including the filling and even the rolling pin. The structure of the cookies becomes increasingly unstable with every passing minute once dough begins to warm up, so work quickly and handle it as little as possible.
  • Keep on rolling. Roll out the dough as thinly as possible, to about an 1/8th of an inch at most, so that the corners won’t crack when you begin to fold. Denser dough will also affect the rate of baking, causing the cookies to open up while still soft and impressionable.
  • Portion control. Apply the filling sparingly (no more than a teaspoon for a 2 1/2-inch round of dough) to prevent overflow. It may seem stingy at a glance, but a little bit really does go a long way.
  • Get the seal of approval. Pinch those corners very firmly to ensure that they adhere, and if they’re giving you trouble, add a tiny dab of water to act as glue.
  • Time to shine. For a very subtle finishing gloss, lightly paint the exposed dough with an even coat of equal parts agave and aquafaba and a tiny pinch of salt. The combination of sugar and protein will help add just a touch of added glamour and enhance browning.

Do you have any hamantaschen secrets of your own? Favorite recipes for dough or fillings? Don’t forget to share, and keep the noise in the kitchen just as jubilant as in the party!


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Going Green

Green isn’t just good; green is great. Green is downright glorious. Green represents health, wealth, freshness, and rebirth. When it comes to food especially, every green in the visible gamut indicates a potent source of nourishment, and this is especially true as those tones grow increasingly saturated. Spirulina is a prime example, packing an unbelievable battery of vitamins, minerals, and proteins into every molecule. Potent even in the smallest doses, spirulina enjoys the rare ability to enhance average recipes, both visually and nutritionally.

Consider that scant pinch of spirulina powder nature’s food dye, with some added health benefits. With St. Patrick’s Day upon us and green eats popping up around every corner, there’s never been a better time to ditch the bottle of FD&C Green No. 3, titanium dioxide, modified corn starch, sodium benzoate, and potassium sorbate.

The funny thing is, the original St. Patrick himself was actually associated with a particular shade of royal blue, not green, contrary to popular belief. That particular hue came to represent the holiday thanks to the shamrock, which was picked to adorn one’s lapel as a vibrant, living symbol of the holy trinity. Curious what a bit of time and mythology can do to tradition.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s still perfectly fitting to pay homage to the “Emerald Isle” with another round of green goodies. If anything, it’s even more appropriate to employ the tinting powers of blue-green algae with this knowledge! It’s the best of all worlds, especially from a flavor standpoint.

Crisp, compact bites for munching solo or pairing with a light dip, you’d never know that these shamrock-shaped crackers are such healthy snacks. A gluten-free base of green pea flour contributes a distinctly nutty, roasted flavor which pairs perfectly with the subtle savoriness contributed by the spirulina. Bold additions of fresh mint, lemon, and black pepper sparkle brightly against the contrast of that dark green backdrop, yielding an invigorating combination well suited for spring festivities, and beyond.

Best of all, the basic formula is infinitely adjustable to your tastes. Green pea flour is still slightly esoteric, I’ll admit, so you can just as easily swap it for standard garbanzo bean flour instead. Herbs and seasonings are entirely flexible, too. Think fresh dill for another seasonal taste, or try cilantro with lime zest to pull the profile in an entirely new direction. As long as it’s green, it’s all good.

Gluten-Free Minted Pea Crackers

1 Cup Green Pea Flour
1 Tablespoon Spirulina Powder
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Mint Leaves, Finely Minced
1 Scallion, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Cup Water
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

In a large bowl, mix together the green pea flour and spirulina, stirring thoroughly to ensure that the spirulina is thoroughly distributed throughout. Add in the finely chopped herbs, zest, salt, pepper, and baking powder next, tossing to incorporate. Finally, pour in the oil and water together, and mix very well, until you create a smooth, cohesive dough. It will be very thick and you may need to use your hands bring everything together, so don’t be afraid to get in there and get messy! There’s no danger of overworking the mixture since there’s no gluten, so give it your all.

Shape the dough into an even rectangle and pat it out fairly thin by hand before moving on to the rolling pin.

Avoid using an excessive amount of additional flour, but use a tiny bit of extra flour on your work surface to prevent the dough from sticking. I had the best results when rolling it between two separate pieces of parchment paper. Roll out the dough as thinly as possible to yield the crispiest, crunchiest crackers; aim for about 1/8 of an inch. Use a small cookie cutter of your desired shape, approximately 1 inch or so in diameter, and punch out the individual crackers. Transfer the shapes carefully to your prepared baking sheet. No need to space them out too much, since they won’t spread. Just give them enough room to breath and bake evenly.

Bake 15 – 18 minutes, or until crisp and no longer shiny on top. It can be difficult to tell when they’re fully cooked due to the dark green color, but they should at least appear dry. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and pull the crackers earlier to prevent them from burning. They will continue to crisp as they cool, and if you’re not fully satisfied with the texture at that point, you can always return them to the oven for a few more minutes.

Let cool completely before snacking or stashing in an air-tight container for up to a week.

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by Spiral Spring, but all content and opinions are entirely my own. To enjoy a 20% discount on all Spiral Spring products, enter “Sweet20” upon checkout.
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Pie-Eyed

Pie, a beloved comestible known in countless forms across the globe, is as ubiquitous across cultures as it is indefinable. Sweet or savory; open-faced or closed; family-style, or single-serving; ornate, or humble; there is no single definition for the concept of pie, but I think we can agree that all permutations are entirely delicious. Every 14th day of March, otherwise known as Pi Day (3.14,) gives the otherwise mathematically averse a reason to bust out the rolling pins and embrace the pastry of honor.

Food historians generally agree that the earliest pies were more closely related to enriched flatbreads with various toppings than deep-dish desserts, which illuminates the link between pie and yet another universally cherished provision: Pizza. In fact, old school establishments still refer to them as hybrid “pizza-pies.” The lines become increasingly blurry depending on who you ask, the general consensus being that all pizzas are pies, but not all pies are pizzas. Got that?

Nomenclature notwithstanding, I was inspired by my Connecticut roots on this particular Pi Day, recalling the inimitable New Haven invention known as white clam pie. Leave the tomatoes behind and instead load up on the cheese, garlic, and herbs. Adding squishy morsels of seafood into that matrix might sound downright repulsive on paper, but once veganized with briny marinated mushrooms, the combination suddenly makes perfect sense.

Re-imagined as a genuine pastry-clad pie, a flaky pastry crust supports a base of soy ricotta, generously seasoned with satisfying umami flavors. Skewing ratios to favor the filling, what was once a decadent, buttery pastry is now a rich yet balanced dinner entree. Even the thinnest slice will prove surprisingly filling, considering the serious protein packed into every square (or should I say circular?) inch. Though not a perfect mock for mollusks, the cruelty-free clams bear an impressive oceanic flavor profile, adding all the right salty, savory notes.

No doubt, there will be a plethora of crusted wonders for dessert today, but why wait for the last course to begin the festivities? A savory dinner pie will start things rolling in the right direction.

White Clam Pie

Vegan Clams:

1/2 Pound Small Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Quartered
1 Tablespoon Vegan Butter
1/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Vegan Fish Sauce
1 Tablespoon Capers
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Bay Leaf
1/4 Teaspoon Celery Seeds

Okara Ricotta:

1 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt
6 – 8 Cloves Roasted Garlic
3/4 Pound Dry Okara*
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley, Finely Chopped
3 Tablespoons Fresh Basil, Finely Chopped
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

For Assembly:

Your Favorite 9-Inch Pie Crust, Rolled and Shaped but Unbaked
Fresh Parsley, Finely Minced
Lemon Zest (Optional)

*If you can’t find okara in local markets and don’t make your own soy milk, you can substitute one 14-ounce container or super-firm tofu instead. Press it for at least two hours to extract as much liquid as possible, and crumble it finely before using.

To prepare the “clams,” begin by melting the vegan butter in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Add the mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, until softened and aromatic. Introduce the remaining ingredients, stir to combine, and cover the pan. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes to infuse the mushrooms. Uncover, and continue to cook gently until any remaining liquid has evaporated. Discard the bay leaf and set aside.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

For the filling, mix together the vegan yogurt and roasted garlic in a large bowl, mashing the cloves thoroughly into a rough paste in the process. If you would like a smoother finished texture, move everything into the bowl of your food processor, but if you’d something with a bit more character, continue stirring by hand. Add in the okara and mix thoroughly to incorporate, being sure to break up any clumps. Introduce all of the remaining ingredients for the ricotta, stirring well until the mixture is is homogeneous. Fold in the mushroom “clams” last.

Transfer the white clam filling into your prepared pie crust and smooth it out into an even layer. Bake for 55 – 60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set but slightly wobbly, almost like a firm cheesecake. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Top with freshly chopped parsley and lemon zest, if desired, and enjoy.

This pie is an ideal make-ahead meal, since the flavors only improve with age and it’s easier to slice after it’s had more time to rest. Simply cover and chill after baking for up to 5 days. To reheat, pop it back into the oven at 350 degrees for 10 – 15 minutes, until heated all the way through.

Makes 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Brazilian Bread Blowout

So a vegan walks into a Brazilian steakhouse…

Reality is stranger than fiction, and while that may sound like the opening line of a terrible joke, that is exactly what happened on a recent afternoon exploit in the city. Why, in a veritable vegan wonderland, would I willingly chose a venue best known for slinging skewered meats like a relentless barrage, bearing glistening swords of the stuff right at your table, no less? Three simple words, my friends: Free salad bar. There is such a thing as a free lunch, at least when it’s your birthday and you’re gifted with a voucher that would cover the cost of the lavish “market table,” a bottomless buffet piled high with a wealth of naturally plant-based options. Luxurious platters of naked hearts of palm, fat spears of asparagus, whole cloves of caramelized garlic, roasted red beets, and yes, even verdant kale salad all beckon atop a platform of glistening crushed ice. It’s a veggie-lovers heaven; a miraculous vegan oasis amid a desert of meat. Thus, for the grand total of $0 (plus a generous and well-deserved tip,) I shamelessly piled my plate high, going back for round after round until I swore I would need to be rolled all the way back home.

To their credit, the servers all took my curious requests in stride, even when I turned down the buttery mashed potatoes, crispy, cheese-encrusted polenta fries, and complimentary birthday dessert. “But it’s included as part of the experience!” they cried, falteringly but graciously returning the untouched bounty to the kitchen whence it came. Only when one carefully folded napkin briefly fell away to reveal a bundle of mysterious little rolls, more like puff pastry than bread, did I feel the smallest pang of regret. Pão de queijo, an entirely unique baked good never before seen through my travels or tastings, suddenly dominated my imagination. Made of either yucca or tapioca flour, the texture is dense and chewy, much like baked mochi with a savory slant. Of course, the little gut bombs positively shimmer with the rich dairy components that make up the bulk of each bite.

That is, of course, until you take matters into your own hands. By no means traditional or remotely “authentic,” my take on the celebrated Brazilian cheese bread is a quick and dirty version that requires none of the typical kneading, rising, or general fussing associated with making bread. If you’ve got a blender and 30 minutes to spare, you’re in business.

Break through that crisp, golden exterior and plunge yourself head-first into an intensely buttery morsel of bread, the likes of which no average dinner roll can compare. Part of its appeal is its simplicity; the flavor is simple and savory, bold but agreeable, easily paired with any other main or side dish on the table. Though unremarkable at first glance, these treats are big winners once you get to know them.

They may not come with the full steakhouse experience, but once you can pop one of these warm, cheesy morsels into your mouth any time a craving strikes, well… You really aren’t missing anything at all.

Brazilian Cheese Bread (Pão de Queijo)

1/4 Cup Aquafaba (Chickpea Brine)
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted
2/3 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon White Vinegar
1 1/2 Cups Tapioca Flour
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
2 Teaspoons Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoons Baking Powder
6 Ounces Vegan Mozzarella-Style Cheese
1 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease two mini muffin pans.

Simply place all of the ingredients into a blender and pulse until smooth. You don’t need to worry about over-mixing the dough, since there’s no gluten to work up here. Pause as needed to scrape down the sides of the blender to ensure that everything is thoroughly incorporated.

Once completely smooth, pour the batter into your prepared mini muffin pans so that they’re filled 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for 16-20 minutes, until puffy and evenly browned all over. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for a few minutes. Don’t be alarmed if some of them fall in the center as they cool.

Serve right away and eat while still warm.

Makes 2 – 2 1/2 Dozen Rolls

Printable Recipe